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New-look Rebels fall short in opener
Lawrence Anderson
Effingham County's Lawrence Anderson sacks Beaufort's Tyler Haley for a five-yard loss early in Friday's game at Rebel Field. - photo by Photo by Gilbert Miller

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Effingham County High School unveiled a new look during its football season opener at Rebel Field on Friday night.

Not fresh-coat-of-paint new. This was a display of new spirit with the pregame Rebel Walk, new sharp warm-up jerseys and sparkling new uniforms.

And new coach John Ford, instilling a new belief, enthusiastically led his players out of the locker room to the playing field for kickoff.

“This is a special place, great people, great community,” Ford said. “I’ve said that from the beginning and now I’m more convinced than ever.”

But the Rebels couldn’t overcome an opponent equipped with the old, tried-and-true ingredients of winning football games — an experienced quarterback and a swarming defense — and fell short against Beaufort, 24-3.

“It was a tough night. Credit Beaufort. They have a really good team,” said Ford, about the South Carolina playoff team that averaged 41 points a game last season.

For most of Friday, new optimism engulfed ECHS, a squad that won just five games and failed to make the state playoffs the last two years.

The first six minutes couldn’t have been scripted better. The Rebels, dressed in red jerseys with blue numerals and blue pants, recorded a sack while forcing a Beaufort three-and-out during the game’s first possession. Then ECHS quarterback Matthew Ford completed three straight passes before scrambling for nine yards to the Eagles’ 17-yard line.

A holding penalty backed up the Rebels, but Wyatt Lein booted a 41-yard field goal and ECHS had a 3-0 lead.

But Beaufort countered with defensive adjustments and pressuring the quarterback slowed down the passing game.

The Rebels, who had 51 yards of offense on the first drive, recorded just 147 yards during the next nine possessions.

ECHS’ defense shined just as brightly in the first half while forcing four 3-and-outs during Beaufort’s first five possessions.

But the Eagles’ senior quarterback, Tyler Haley, heated up — first with his legs, then with his arm — and wore out the Rebels.

Haley had a 50-yard scramble in the final minute of the first half to set up Joe Caprarola’s game-tying 47-yard field goal to end the half.

Haley connected on touchdown passes of 66 and 35 yards to Zyrin Odom and Kacy Fields in the second half and finished the game with 129 yards passing and 110 rushing to account for 239 of his team’s 297 total yards.

Reserve running back Caleb Ulmer sealed ECHS’ fate with a 3-yard TD run with less than five minutes to go.

“I had no complaints with the defense. They played their hearts out,” Ford said. “We have to sustain more drives on offense to keep our defense fresher.”

Offensively, senior running back Xayvier Coppock, finished with 111 yards on 14 carries — 47 came on the second play of the second half to give the Rebels a scoring opportunity at the Beaufort 21.

On the next play, Miquel Allen broke several tackles en route to an apparent touchdown, but the play was negated by a holding call. Four plays later, during a field goal attempt, a low snap led to a bobbled hold and disrupted the timing for Lein’s 43-yard try which never had a chance.

Ford said there will be a lot of mistakes to clean up before the next game. He said he doesn’t subscribe to the old saying that teams make their biggest strides between Week 1 and Week 2.

“Teams that improve are the teams that commit to their processes and don’t let outcomes dictate their habits,” Ford said. “You have to get better at all the little things that go into this game whether that’s between Week 1 and Week 2 or whenever.”